A Waldport man is suing Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and two Samaritan employees over a 10-inch length of wire he claims was left in his chest following heart surgery in December 2007.
The lawsuit, filed in Benton County Circuit Court, seeks $20,000 in economic damages and $250,000 for pain and suffering, plus legal fees.
In addition to the hospital, the lawsuit names Dr. Mark Taylor, a cardiac surgeon with Samaritan Heart and Vascular Institute, and physician's assistant Charla LeAnn Pickett as defendants.
Jennifer Nitson, a spokeswoman for Good Samaritan, said the hospital would have no comment on the lawsuit.
Ben Sebastiani, now 76, says he didn't know the wire was there until a year later, after he sought treatment for an abscess that appeared on his torso and wouldn't heal. His physician told him he had an E. coli infection and started him on antibiotics.
Weeks went by, and the problem persisted, so Sebastiani's doctor referred him to another physician, who did an exploratory procedure at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport.
"I'm on the table and he says, ‘It seems like we might have something there,'" Sebastiani recalled. "He says, ‘Oh, what's this?' and he proceeded to pull something out."
Sebastiani describes the wire as six to eight strands of copper sheathed in insulation - "like the one on your cell phone charger." Apparently, it had been inside his chest since his 2007 triple bypass and valve replacement at Good Sam.
Temporary pacing wires have been routinely used in heart bypass surgery for decades. If there are postoperative complications, the wires can be connected to an external pacemaker until normal heart rhythm is re-established.
Generally, the wires are removed before discharge. Occasionally, if removing a wire seems risky, it may be snipped off at the skin's surface and left in place inside a vein.
But in Sebastiani's case, the lawsuit claims, his Good Samaritan chart notes that "chest tubes and pace wires were disconnected successfully," with no mention of the retained wire.
The Joint Commission, a national medical accreditation agency, considers unintended retention of foreign bodies a "sentinel event," a potentially serious incident that should be reviewed. Reports of foreign bodies unintentionaly left in patients have averaged around 70 a year since 2005, when the commission started tracking them.
Terry Hansen, the Newberg lawyer representing Se bastiani, said he approached Good Samaritan's insurance carrier about a monetary settlement in the case before taking it to court. The insurer refused the settlement offer.
"Insurance companies would rather deny, delay and defend, hoping that the injury victim will just give up, all the while racking up huge defense costs," Hansen said in an e-mail to the Gazette-Times.
"Mr. Sebastiani's claim is for a retained foreign body injury. Liability doesn't get any clearer than that."
Sebastiani still can't fathom why the wire was left in his chest. But what bothers him the most, he says, is that no one connected with Good Samaritan or Samaritan Heart and Vascular Institute ever apologized afterward or even tried to check on him.
"All I wanted them to do was tell me the truth," he said. "Is there any other crap in me?"
In the end, that's why he decided to sue.
"It's because of the way there was zero follw-up. We couldn't get a straight answer from those people," Sebastiani said. "This isn't right."
Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.